A few weeks ago my friend, Sarah, and I had a lapse of sanity and took a drive through downtown Panama City Beach, Fla., the first week colleges were there on spring break.
I hear "spring break" and envision families from Ohio riding bikes through Sea Pines to the Salty Dog Cafe, where they buy their two children and a puppy matching T-shirts, but "spring break" in Panama City Beach is a completely different story.
It's where "Girls Gone Wild" footage was filmed. Airplanes cruise above the shoreline with banners for ... uh ... things that start with "con" and end with "doms" (but don't tell my grandmothers I said that). Pauly D is apparently leaving the Jersey Shore to DJ at the local club this Tuesday. The biggest shock to this Hilton Head Island girl is the blinking lights and gaping shark mouths used as doors for the T-shirt shops. Everything is neon, and there is actually a building built to look as though it were dropped upside down.
To a gal raised in Hilton Head Plantation -- whose parents had to attain a permit to paint their house a slightly different shade of beige -- the whole experience was a little jarring. Sipping coffee and allowing our senses to recover, Sarah and I marveled at the difference between the Lowcountry and what we had just witnessed.
Never miss a local story.
The question I had -- to which I still don't know the answer -- is whether Panama City Beach intended to be the wild destination that it now is, or if it was accidental. Did the founding fathers say, "Yes, this WOULD be a great spot for an adult novelty shop -- right next to the drive-through liquor store!" or did it evolve more organically -- with the occasional neon light and bar being added here and there? When did it decide to be known as the town where anything goes?
As a teenager, I had thought Hilton Head was way too uptight about their rules. No neon lights or flashy colors made things difficult to find things, and to my 14-year-old senses, kind of dull. However, standing in the middle of Panama City Beach, I found that the rules started to make a lot more sense. The codes, ordinances and general lack of neon may give business owners a headache and drive homeowners to the wilds of Bluffton, (where I hear you can go crazy and paint your house blue). However, the beauty of all these rules and regulations is that they keep one person's agenda from ruining it for everyone else. No excessively tall buildings can block our waterfronts. Bars take up less than a city block and music remains at a tasteful decibel. The rules can be frustrating, but it also creates an environment of respect, where we can all be happy.
While I'm hardly comparing the strict regulations of Hilton Head to morality, as an adult I can look back and realize that these rules -- and many others, in fact -- are in place for a reason. The tranquil results might not be appealing to a college spring breaker, but an adult can recognize the benefits of a beach without "girls gone wild."
Some still see religion as having too many rules that cramp their style. They focus on the "thou shall nots" and fail to see that it protects us and fosters charity toward others. Psalm 19:8 states: "The law of the lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple."
Like the laws of a town keep the peace on the streets, submitting oneself to a higher standard isn't losing independence. It's setting a standard for peace in one's soul.